Loophole for pubs and restaurants creates enormous risk

The guidance on maintaining records of staff and customers said it was “critical that organisations” took measures to help during the UK “public health emergency”. This includes keeping a record of visitors for 21 days that could the be shared with the test-and-trace service.

Watered-down guidance for pubs and restaurants creates an “enormous risk” that further coronavirus outbreaks won’t be able to be traced, public health directors have warned.

It had been expected that venues would be required to record contact details of customers ahead of re-opening at the weekend so that in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak customers at risk could be identified.

But the final regulations, issued on Friday night, said this was purely voluntary – and local public health directors have hit out at what they said is a significant downgrade and leaves them unable to take effective action locally.

But the guidance added giving information was “voluntary” adding: “If a customer or visitor informs you that they do not want their details shared for the purposes of NHS Test and Trace, they can choose to opt out, and if they do so you should not share their information used for booking purposes with NHS test and trace.”

It added the accuracy of details provided by customers did not need to be verified by the venue.

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen Council, told The Independent he was “surprised and disappointed” to see the guidance state recording people’s contact details was voluntary.

He said the biggest risk was that busy town centre pubs may choose not to follow the advice and if an outbreak occurred in a pub the NHS test-and-trace service would be unable to identify everyone at risk.

“The biggest risk of large-scale transmission of Covid-19 is from mass gatherings in an indoor setting. That is a description of a busy town centre pub on a Saturday night,” he said.

“If pubs don’t keep records there is no way test and trace can identify people at risk and there is a risk if we have an outbreak that you have significant community spread, especially as maybe up to 40 per cent of people could be asymptomatic.

“I am seriously concerned about this; it is an enormous risk.”

Prof Harrison said he was hoping to encourage local outlets in his area to record contact details, but he said the fact the guidance was voluntary meant he had no powers to require it.

“It’s a complete own goal to have not made it a requirement. It has completely disabled us from being able to take effective action locally.”

Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield added: “It’s a good example of a downgrade of regulations to make it a bit easier for businesses to operate, but a lot harder to do rapid chasing in event of an incident

“I suspect there was a strong lobby from the hospitality trade to downgrade the strength of recommendations in the guidance.”

He added: “Speed does matter in event of managing an incident. Time to find people is time they might infect others.

“The trade-off between economy and public health is a false trade-off. They are both dependent on each other. We need to keep on in this vein, do it carefully and keep learning as we go.

“We 100 per cent need to get the economy going but we 100 per cent need to avoid another epidemic wave.”

The Independent specifically asked the Department of Health and Social Care how the contacts from an outbreak in a pub would be traced if no customer details had been kept but did not receive a reply.

Instead a DHSC spokesperson confirmed the guidance was voluntary but then went on to say the maintaining of records of staff, customers and visitors was “vital to help NHS Test and Trace identify and contain outbreaks of Covid-19 linked to particular venues”.

They added: “The vast majority of the public have played their part in curbing the spread of the virus. In line with this we urge everyone to share their details with the venues they visit and support the NHS Test and Trace service to do its job in helping to protect us, our families and communities from further outbreaks of Covid-19.”

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